The nearly nine-year process of rebuilding Berkeley Tuolumne Camp comes to an end this summer, when the beloved Sierra Nevada retreat welcomes families back in time to celebrate its centennial.
Founded in 1922 along the South Fork of the Tuolumne River, just outside Yosemite National Park, the camp has been closed since the Rim Fire destroyed all of its major structures in 2013.
City officials and the public will gather to celebrate the reopening with a ribbon-cutting on June 4, and family camps start the week of June 27. Space is still available and the camp is open to everyone, though Berkeley residents get a discount on fees.
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I toured the new Tuolumne Camp along with photographer Kelly Sullivan on a sunny day earlier this month for a story on how Berkeley’s beloved family camps are adapting to the threats posed by climate change, which is helping make wildfires in the Sierra Nevada bigger, more frequent and more destructive.
We saw Tuolumne Camp as the $54.7 million rebuilding project neared its final stages — workers were unpacking shipments of cots bound for the new tent cabins, and had just installed a check-in desk at the camp office. Liza McNulty, who has overseen the project as the Berkeley parks department’s capital improvement program manager, told us about features like the accessible paths that now wind through the site, making it easier for campers with disabilities to get around, and its extensive new fire safety systems.
Hydrants and hookup points now give firefighters access to 240,000 gallons of water stored in a massive tank on a nearby hillside, while the new dining hall has a sprinkler system that covers everything from the kitchen to the underside of its deck. New structures must also comply with updated building codes requiring them to use materials that are more resistant to flames. City officials say the goal is to give the camp a better chance of survival when — not if — it’s threatened by a wildfire again.
The most noticeable difference to most longtime campers, though, will likely be the landscape they find as they approach the site along Hardin Flat Road.
Once tucked into a thick forest that made it practically invisible to the outside world, the camp is now exposed. Crews had to remove hundreds of burned and dead trees from within the site, and while volunteers have planted thousands of saplings, they’re a long way from shading the tent cabins and pathways. This part of Stanislaus National Forest is still early in its recovery from the Rim Fire, and more burned trees poke out from the hillsides around the camp in every direction.
The city of Berkeley has so far spent $2.7 million of local funding on the rebuilding project, and has received $1 million from state and federal sources. The rest of the project’s budget, just over $50 million, came from insurance.
Photos by Kelly Sullivan